Gerard Basset, founder of Hotel du Vin and owner of Hotel TerraVina in the New Forest, was last month named the World's Best Sommelier. He spoke to Kerstin Kühn about winning the title at the triennial competition held in Santiago, Chile
Caterer What did winning the World's Best Sommelier title mean to you?
Gerard Basset Reaching the top of my profession was what I wanted to achieve for a long time. The competition takes place every three years and this was the sixth time I entered, having come second three times before. But when you have a dream you have to pursue it and because I had come close before, I knew I had a chance.
Caterer Who were the other finalists?
GB There were 51 sommeliers from around the world in the first round, in which we had to complete a written blind tasting and a quick service. Then 12 of us went through to the second round, in which we had to do an oral blind tasting of two wines and three spirits in nine minutes; pair a wine with an unusual Chilean seafood dish called macha (similar to clams); and serve a bottle of Champagne for seven people in seven minutes. Three of us then went through to the final: myself, Paolo Basso of Switzerland and David Biraud of France.
Caterer What was expected of you in the final?
GB The final took place in front of an audience, which was much more difficult because you get nervous. We had 40 minutes of practical tests, including a blind tasting where we had to describe in detail four different wines and identify eight spirits; correcting mistakes on a wine list; identifying wineries and wine regions from photographs; and pouring a magnum of Champagne for six people in five minutes.
Caterer Which part of the final was the toughest?
GB It was tough to do the blind tasting in front of the audience because you worry that you will make a fool of yourself. There's such little time to think about what the wine could be. The service part is also hard because you're not in your own restaurant, where you know the material, and you worry that everything is right.
Caterer What do you think set you apart from the other contestants in the end?
GB Like any competition, it's all in the preparation and I prepared extremely hard this time. Having entered before, I knew where I needed to improve and I think I was consistent throughout the final. Some of the other finalists didn't manage to finish some of the tasks but I was either good or very good at all the tasks.
CatererWhat's the best advice you can give up-and-coming sommeliers?
GB Find yourself a good mentor, who is experienced and can guide you. You can save yourself a lot of time by not heading in the wrong direction. Being a sommelier is like learning a guitar; it's all about practice and having a good teacher who can give you the right advice.